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White Lund Explosion, October 1917

The Ministry of Munition commissioned the National Filling Factory at White Lund and construction began in November 1915 with output from the factory starting seven months later in 1916. The site covered 400 acres and consisted of approximately 150 buildings. The factory received empty shells from other locations such as the projectile factory on Caton Road (Lancaster), which were then filled with explosives including amatol. More than 8,000 people worked in the White Lund and Caton Road factories at their peak, and three quarters of the workers were women.

On the evening of October 1st 1917, an explosion occurred at the filling factory at White Lund which was so strong its force was felt as far away as Burnley and Rossendale. Fortunately, the majority of factory workers were still on their break in the canteen when the fire alarm was raised at around 10.30 pm. A fire had started in one of the melt plants and during the night ten people were killed, the majority of whom were firemen, although others were seriously injured.
Numerous explosions took place overnight, with the biggest occurring at around 3.00 am. Shells which had been filled at the factory began to explode and were seen flying overhead into Morecambe Bay and Lancaster. Some people's homes shook so violently that ornaments fell off their mantelpieces, and many families were so scared they moved out of the area, fearing more danger.

Photograph : © the Visitor Newspaper

John Taylor, who ran a Heysham building company, was just 6 at the time of the explosion, In 2010 he relayed his memories of that day to the Visitor Newspaper; to the right is is an extract from the paper. A year later John reached his century.
He refers to his father in the trenches in France; this was Henry Taylor and he is mentioned  in Baldwin Bent’s list of those who served in the 1914-18 war.

To the left is Anne Harrington who at the time of the explosion was 11 years old. Later in life in her 60s she wrote her childhood vivid memories of the traumatic event. To read them click  here.

Another extract: ....‘their barn was full of people as well (the Rectory) it was terrifying. When we got so far on Barrows Lane, near Heysham Hall, we met a lady who had worked at White Lund, and all she had on was a night dress and an overcoat.’

from Voices of Heysham, Dent, Eileen J, 2000

By the morning of the 4th October 1917 the factory was almost entirely destroyed and remained out of commission for the rest of the war. Staff were paid off and given an extra fortnight's wages. The cause of the disaster was never established, and some suspected the cause to be sabotage by spies or the result of a Zeppelin air raid.

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